U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said he shares the concerns of many over the recent acquittal of George Zimmerman, who faced second-degree murder charges for the death of Trayvon Martin.
Holder, who spoke at the Delta Sigma Theta sorority's social action luncheon on Monday, decried the "tragic, unnecessary shooting death of Trayvon Martin."
On Saturday, George Zimmerman was found not guilty in the death of the unarmed 17-year-old. Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law became a point of contention surrounding the Martin case. Many have criticized Zimmerman for profiling Martin, who they argue wasn't a threat.
Delta Sigma Theta is a national sorority of African American women committed to social service and advocacy.
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Holder said the Justice Department has opened an investigation into the incident and that he seeks to get to the truth.
But Holder emphasized to the crowd of thousands that they cannot let this opportunity pass to open up a dialogue about the often difficult subject of race relations in the country:
As parents, as engaged citizens, and as leaders who stand vigilant against violence in communities across the country, the Deltas are deeply, and rightly, concerned about this case. The Justice Department shares your concern – I share your concern – and, as we first acknowledged last spring, we have opened an investigation into the matter.
Independent of the legal determination that will be made, I believe that this tragedy provides yet another opportunity for our nation to speak honestly about the complicated and emotionally-charged issues that this case has raised. We must not – as we have too often in the past – let this opportunity pass. I hope that we will approach this necessarily difficult dialogue with the same dignity that those who have lost the most, Trayvon’s parents, have demonstrated throughout the last year – and especially over the past few days. They suffered a pain that no parent should have to endure – and one that I, as a father, cannot begin to conceive. Even as we embrace their example and hold them in our prayers, we must not forego this opportunity to better understand one another and to make better this nation we cherish.
Holder is not the first in the African American community to speak about the verdict.
President Barack Obama on Sunday called what happened to Martin and his family a tragedy, while calling on Americans to reflect calmly after the verdict.
Holder assured the crowd that the Justice Department "will continue to act in a manner that is consistent with the facts and the law. We are committed to standing with the people of Sanford, with the individuals and families affected by this incident, and with our state and local partners in order to alleviate tensions, address community concerns, and promote healing."
"We are determined to meet division and confusion with understanding and compassion – and also with truth," he said. "We are resolved, as you are, to combat violence involving or directed at young people, to prevent future tragedies and to deal with the underlying attitudes, mistaken beliefs and stereotypes that serve as the basis for these too common incidents. And we will never stop working to ensure that – in every case, in every circumstance, and in every community – justice must be done."
Members of the sorority agreed with Holder's intention to explore civil action, saying they are sad at the death of a child.
Veronica Jackson, a Delta Sigma Theta member of the Chicago Alumnae Chapter, said she believes an injustice was served in the Martin case and is glad the Justice Department is stepping in.
"Whether or not it was racial, a child was killed," Jackson said.
Eugenia Wright and Ramonia Bledsoe, both members of the organization from Nashville, echoed Jackson's sentiments.
"We're all just a little appalled that somebody can kill a child -- an unarmed child," Wright said.
Bledsoe said it was shocking that "our son is in jeopardy when he goes to the store."
Wright agreed with Holder's call to pursue the opportunity the case offered for a dialogue in the country.
"All of us need to look in the mirror to ease these parents and say that their son did not die in vain," Wright said.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that George Zimmerman's defense invoked Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law in its case.